AS THE country’s best young footballers jockey for attention at this year’s NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, their leadership ability has become a prominent talking point among AFL recruiters.

State coaches are coaching leadership, players are making a point of developing it, and recruiters like Fremantle’s Brad Lloyd are taking more notice of the young footballers that have it.

Lloyd said Fremantle, which has drafted 23 new players over the last two years, had made a point of recruiting young leaders and it was something that can push a player up the draft pecking order.

“From a recruiting point of view it’s an area that every football club will be looking at,” Lloyd told afl.com.au.

“With AFL teams focusing more on structures, clubs will increasingly look for leaders who can direct traffic on field, while also taking note of players who don’t play their role for the team and therefore break down what the group is trying to achieve.

“You can’t under-estimate having additional leaders in your group (and) there’s no doubt that quality leaders can get pushed up in a club’s draft order because of it.”

Lloyd praised the state development pathways as well as the AFL-AIS Academy, which seeks to develop players away from the game while also making them elite footballers under head coach Jason McCartney.

WA under-18s coach Brad Wira said developing his players’ leadership had been a major focus, with former AFL journeyman Simon Eastaugh giving the state side a personal development crash course over the past two years. 

“Not everyone’s a natural leader and there’s so many different ways you can lead,” Wira said.

“Simon dials it right down to learning about your family and knowing where you’ve come from to the different types of leadership.

“It’s a bit about footy/life balance, which is massively important, but a lot of it is on leadership. It’s been great for our program.”

WA has a four-player leadership group, with Jack Darling, Alex Fasolo and Reece Conca working under captain Kieran Butcher.

Wira identified first-round draft prospect Darling as a player that leads by example but also commands attention when he speaks.

“He’s a very good second-year player and an all-Australian who’s played league footy, so people look up to that,” Wira said.

“But he’s also excellent with second and third efforts and that attitude of  ‘jump on my back boys and follow me’ in terms of tackles and chases.

“He’s slowly realising that to lead by example can then change to the point where everyone listens when Jack Darling speaks.”

Darling said he had benefitted greatly from Eastaugh’s four-week program and he was realising the importance of developing leadership as November’s NAB AFL draft draws closer.

“It’s not all to do about football any more,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s how you are off the field and how you’re brought up – [recruiters] take that into account. If you’re a good leader that will certainly help.

“I’m always talking on the field and I’ll go my hardest in the game and show a bit of courage and desperation out there. I also try and lead by example off the field.”

Lloyd said recruiters were constantly noting players on their leadership and this year’s state representatives should focus on working together.

“The under-18 championships are a really challenging environment with all the players understanding that their individual games will by scrutinised by all of the AFL clubs,” Lloyd said. 

“The players need to have faith that if they work together and work within the team structures they’ll all be better for it and they’ll all be recognised accordingly.

“It might be how they go about training, the way they treat the property steward or the way they lead by example on the field. Leadership shows out in different ways.”

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